There are certain things that I wish my parents and the rest of the world had kept from me until I was old enough to actually appreciate their revelatory nature. Revolver and Rubber Soul. The Empire Strikes Back. The metric system.
On the other hand, there are things that I thought I knew like the back of my hand, only to have my opinions shattered and my mind blown. Like the first fig I ate when I got to San Francisco in August, during my six-week West Coast foray. It was unlike any fig I'd every tasted—jammier, denser, more floral, more figgy. Imagine the best, most intense fig jam you've had, then stuff it inside the shell of a fresh fig. It's that good.
I chuckled a few years ago when David Chang called out San Francisco chefs for doing nothing more than putting a fig on a plate, but now that I've tasted those figs, well, I kind of get it. I didn't really need anything more than perhaps a bite of cheese or a drizzle of olive oil.
Unfortunately, even in California, fig season doesn't last forever, and the specimens I was picking up last week had already lost their figgy luster. The best way to use less-than-perfect figs is to cook them. Not only does this drive off some of their moisture, concentrating their flavor, but it also converts some of their more complex sugars to simple sugars that are sweeter than their precursors. Your figs become jammier and all around tastier.
This works especially well on a pizza cooked in a hot oven (like the new joint KettlePizza and Baking Steel kettle grill add-on) because that bite of cheese and drizzle of olive oil can go straight on top with the figs.
In this pie, I used a mix of buffalo mozzarella for its slight tang and creaminess, along with a generous sprinkle of goat's milk feta, which adds a sharp saltiness that contrasts nicely with the figs' sweetness. Some basil leaves finish it off.
If your figs are particularly sweet, you can serve the pie directly as-is, but if they're anything short of spectacular, a modest drizzle of honey can bring out their flavor.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.